Protect and Respect


Protecting young people from exploitation

Protect and Respect offers two different services for children and young people aged 11 to 19 who either need support to learn about healthy relationships or who may be experiencing exploitation.

Two types of support

Protect and Respect offers two types of support:

  • Awareness raising group work: For children and young people who need a safe and reflective space to learn about healthy relationships and consent.
  • Support and protection service: If there are concerns that a child or young person is experiencing exploitation we provide tailored support for the child and their parent or carer.
How it works

How Protect and Respect works

Awareness raising group work

Our awareness raising group work is designed to meet the needs of children at an early stage.

We work with a wide range of organisations such as schools or youth clubs. When an organisation refers a child to Protect and Respect for group work, our practitioners will first make sure the programme is appropriate for the child’s needs. We brief the agency about the programme so they can help support the child throughout the process.

Groups can include 3-8 children or young people. We develop a clear group agreement to make sure children are comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings about topics such as consent, internet safety, healthy relationships and self-esteem. The content of the group work is designed to complement universal provision of relationships and sex education.

Extra support is in place during and after the sessions for any young people who need it.

We can also provide a group or one-to-one session for parents to help them understand what’s happening in the group and how best to support their child.

Support and protection service

Children and parents each work with an experienced practitioner. The practitioners carry out a strengths based assessment with each child/parent and use this to co-develop a bespoke work plan.

Our practitioners build a trusting relationship with each child/parent, using a variety of trauma-informed approaches to improve wellbeing and promote resilience. This might include helping families improve their relationships with each other and building their support networks. We work with other professionals such as the police, social workers and teachers to make sure a child has all the help they need.

The Support and Protection service is intensive and takes place over a six month period, which can be extended up to 12 months if needed. It offers a safe space in which to promote learning, reflection and support utilising trauma-informed and therapeutic approaches. It can complement and work alongside therapeutic support from child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) but is not designed to be a formal therapy service for highly traumatised children.

Evidence base

The evidence base

Sexual exploitation can have a lasting impact on young people’s lives (PACE, 2013; Berelowitz et al, 2012). But limited understanding of what sexual exploitation is, or how to tackle it, means children continue to be at risk (Berelowitz et al, 2015).

Developing a trusting relationship

Research shows that when children who have experienced sexual abuse are able to build a trusting relationship with a professional, they are more likely to:

  • engage with a service
  • recognise that they have been abused
  • and disclose the abuse to a professional

(Smeaton, 2013).

Developing a trusting relationship with an adult has been identified as important for children even if they may not be ready for risk-focused support (Hickle and Hallett, 2016).

Children need to know that the professionals around them have ‘stickability’ – they won’t be discouraged by challenging behaviour; they are on the child’s side and can be trusted (Jago, 2011). This can require practitioners to spend time with children in a more informal and relaxed setting, without always focusing on exploitation (Lefevre et al, 2017).

Research shows that children and young people want to be partners in their protection and recovery plan. Without consultation, they can end up feeling powerless and hopeless (Berelowitz et al, 2013).

Listening to young people

We make sure that young people’s views are sought, explored and taken into consideration at every stage of Protect and Respect.

If children feel that their rights and opinions are respected and they can participate in their support plans, they are also more likely to develop a trusting relationship with their practitioner. A key aspect of Protect and Respect’s approach is the ability of practitioners to persist in encouraging the participation and engagement of children.

We’ve developed the Protect and Respect service following the findings identified in our initial evaluation. We’ve created a simpler intervention which builds on what we know works well and adapted the service to move away from approaches with little or no evidence.

Who it is for

Who is Protect and Respect for?

Protect and Respect is for children and young people aged 11 to 19 who need support to learn about healthy relationships or who may be experiencing exploitation.


Awareness raising group work

The awareness raising group work is suitable for children who have vulnerabilities or experiences which are leading professionals to have low level concerns about relationships with others.

It is not designed to support children who are currently experiencing exploitation or who are suffering significant or complex trauma because of their experiences.

Support and protection service

The children who may benefit from one-to-one support and protection are:

  • children who are thought to be at risk of exploitation
  • children who are suspected to be experiencing exploitation
  • children who are known to have experienced exploitation
  • children who may need additional practical and emotional support through ongoing criminal proceedings due to previous exploitation.

Evaluation of Protect and Respect

We've evaluated the Protect and Respect service to find out what works in supporting children who have experienced or are at risk of sexual exploitation.

> Read the evaluation report

What we learnt

We’ve redesigned Protect and Respect based on the key findings from our evaluation. We’ve extended the service so it now supports children who need support to learn about healthy relationships and children who are experiencing, or are at risk of, all forms of exploitation.

We’re also considering the best ways to continue evaluating the service in the future.

How we’re evaluating this service

We have developed a bespoke measure to assess the risk of child sexual exploitation over time.

There were three components to the initial evaluation of Protect and Respect:

Outcome measures

We tracked wellbeing, post-traumatic symptomology and vulnerability of children at eight time-points before, during and after the intervention.


We interviewed young people and practitioners to help us understand any variations in the help and support provided by practitioners. We also identified the circumstances in which certain types of support improve the safety, wellbeing and life chances of the children who receive a service.

Referral and assessment data

We collected data on all children who received the service, and used this to identify pathways into sexual exploitation and any patterns in the types of vulnerability commonly experienced.

Evaluation tools

The initial evaluation used the following tools:

  • interviews
  • Child Report of Post-Traumatic Symptoms
  • Outcome Rating Scale
  • Protect and Respect Assessment Form.
References and resources

References and resources

Evaluation report

Williams, M. (2019) The NSPCC’s Protect & Respect child sexual exploitation programme: a discussion of the key findings from programme implementation and service use (PDF). London: NSPCC.

Evidence base

Barnardo’s (2012) Cutting them free: how is the UK progressing in protecting its children from sexual exploitation (PDF). London: Barnardo’s.

Berelowitz, S. et al (2012) ‘I thought I was the only one. The only one in the world’: The Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups: interim report (PDF). London: Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

Berelowitz, S. et al (2013) ‘If only someone had listened’: Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups: final report (PDF). London: Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

Berelowitz, S. et al (2015) ‘If it’s not better, it’s not the end’: inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups: one year on (PDF). London: Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

Hickle, K. and Hallett, S. (2016) Mitigating harm: considering harm reduction principles in work with sexually exploited young people. Children and Society, 30 (4): 302-313.

Jago, Sue (2011) What's going on to safeguard children and young people from sexual exploitation?: how local partnerships respond to child sexual exploitation (PDF). [Luton]: University of Bedfordshire.

Lefevre, M. et al (2017) Building trust with children and young people at risk of child sexual exploitation: the professional challenge. British Journal of Social Work 47 (8): 2456-2473.

Parents against Child Sexual Exploitation (PACE) (2013) The impact of child sexual exploitation. [Accessed 23/10/2018].

Smeaton, E. (2013) Running from hate to what you think is love: the relationship between running away and child sexual exploitation (PDF). Ilford: Barnardo’s.